heat

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Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon

If you ever race Multisport Canada’s Gravenhurst triathlon, you’ll thoroughly and overwhelmingly come to understand the need for heat training. Something about consistent temperatures close to forty degrees and no shade on the run course seems to be rather convincing.

But it’s easy to forget about the heat when you’re chatting with other triathletes and drinking ice water at the bar on the Winona Steamship, watching and cheering as a blast from the ship’s horn sends off the first wave of swimmers. Although some athletes find the five foot jump off the ship to be a little scary, it’s a straight swim in to shore with a wide start line and no pileup around turns. The bike course is quiet and scenic with a few turns and rollers to keep it interesting, but nothing that really makes it difficult.

The intense heat on the run is only a bonus for those of us who love racing in conditions most people would describe as insane.

Pre-Race Thoughts

I had some pretty tough goals for this year – I wanted to finish the sprint distance in 1:20, which is about 8 minutes faster than my equivalent time from last year (I’m approximating my time from last year because the bike course was 2km longer in 2012).

Unfortunately I came down with a sore throat and stuffy nose on Tuesday, and I wasn’t able to shake it off despite concentrating solely on sleeping and eating well for the remainder of the week. While it’s tempting to blame this on a cruel twist of fate, I know that this was my fault for pushing my body’s limits for training volume and lack of sleep; I only ever get sick when I’m overtraining or under-sleeping and I was probably doing both. Not a recommended strategy, just in case you were contemplating giving it a try.

The Swim – 750m

Given the warm air and water temperatures, wetsuits were optional on the swim and many people chose not to wear them. I’m already hot stuff (ha!) so I stuck with my plan to wear my wetsuit. As a bonus, I think I sweated off a couple more pounds before jumping in the water – nothing like getting down to race weight at the last minute! My strategy was to stay relaxed and consistent on the swim, try to find someone to draft and come out feeling in good shape to have a fast bike split. I managed to stay relaxed and consistent…a little too relaxed as it turned out, as I discovered when climbed onto the dock, checked my watch and saw 16:44. Including the run up to transition, my total swim time was 18:17 – 3 seconds slower than last year!

Final thoughts: “crap, now I’m behind everyone”.

The Bike – 20km

I blazed through T1 in 1:02 for a new personal best, ripping off my wetsuit, donning my sunglasses and helmet and bravely leaving my shoes on the bike for a flying mount at the start line. I managed to accomplish all this (including doing up my shoes while riding my bike) without falling flat on my face. I know, I know, I’m practically a pro already.

Cresting the hill

Feeling strong out of T1!
Photo courtesy of My Sports Shooter.

The next 5 kilometers consisted of shouting “on your left!” every 30 seconds as I passed all the stronger swimmers who didn’t have the same level of bike fitness; it’s a great ego boost, but also very demoralizing to find out just how many people were ahead of me after the swim. Nutritionally, I decided to try out plain water on the bike rather than my usual 50/50 mix of water and gatorade, and only took two Clif gels, one before the race and the other 2/3 of the way through the bike.

I could tell the spin classes contributed to my bike fitness (see my previous post re: YAY HILLS!!) since I felt incredibly strong on the rollers outside of Gravenhurst, and while my average speed of 29.3km/hr wasn’t as fast as I liked, 40:58 is still a very respectable bike split, or at least respectable enough for a grade of “meh”.

P.S. It’s worth mentioning that I was also successful in getting out of my cycling shoes for a flying dismount, although I think I scared the volunteers at the dismount line when I came flying through (sorry!).

The Run – 5km

Running has always been my strongest sport, and with my specific focus on running this year I’ve seen some very significant improvements; I was hoping to be within about a minute of my 21:33 personal best from Pride Run several weeks ago (yeah, the race that was only running, and had nearly perfect conditions with a slight overcast and temperature around 20).

The strange thing was, my legs felt fine – relatively speaking, of course – but as I tried to push the pace I developed a stitch on my right side. I haven’t felt this in…a year? two? three? so I was a little confused by the sudden appearance of an old nemesis. Focusing on my form and breathing helped a little but I wasn’t able to go faster than about 5:05 pace without significantly increasing my discomfort. The heat really wasn’t a factor for me, despite humidex temperatures close to 40 degrees and little to no shade on the run course (see? heat training works!) and I actually felt pretty good as I crossed the finish line – which was actually disappointing because if I don’t feel like crap then I should have gone faster.

The upside? I was feeling good enough to snag a veggie burger before they ran out!

My total run time of 25:44 was still a triathlon PB, as was my total time of 1:25:52.6 (placing 4/21 in F25-29, complete results on SportStats).

Lessons Learned

  • Transition is obviously my best sport.
  • Sleep more! Don’t try to handle enough training volume for a half-ironman along with multiple races every month unless sleep and nutrition are absolutely perfect, or the result will be a compromised immune system, people who don’t want to hang out with a cranky triathlete and muscles that don’t have any kick.
  • Apparently doing my first open water swim during a race is not The Best Training Strategy Ever. If anyone is looking for me this week, I’ll be at Cherry Beach fighting with the weeds.
  • I’m not sure plain water and only one gel during the race really worked for me. I suspect the stitch was nutrition-related, so for the upcoming Toronto Triathlon Festival I will be returning to my 50/50 gatorade mix and Gu gels (with caffeine! woo!).
Stinson Beach Runner

Hills, Heat and Anything Difficult

On a weekly basis, my spin class will groan as they hear me enthusiatically proclaim, “guess what? It’s HILL TIME!” – sometimes more than once in a class – followed by, “let’s make this one a REAL challenge!”

While most people hate training in adverse conditions, hills, heat and anything else difficult only increase my enthusiasm, often leaving my workout buddies rather confused; I’ve heard a running buddy mutter under his breath “I knew triathletes were crazy!” when I suggested running our intervals on a hill rather than a flat loop. I never skip a run because of heat – if anything, I’m more likely to head out for a lunchtime run if the temperature is above 35 degrees than if temperatures are cool.

You might be thinking that I’m totally crazy (and you’d probably be right, my dad’s been telling me so for years), but I have a good reason to legitimately enjoy making my workouts a suffer-fest: I’m competitive. Races don’t usually consist of perfectly calm water, a tailwind for the entire bike course and a flat run at 16 degrees with a bit of cloud, so the more I suffer now, the faster I go on race day.

Running in the heat or tackling crazy hill repeats on my bike make me a stronger, faster athlete, and if that’s not enough to make me work for it, I just think of all my competitors who decided to skip their tempo run today because it’s too hot, or those who decided that 3 hill repeats are enough. Those are the ones who will slow down in the last 3km of the run when it’s 35 degrees out and we haven’t seen shade in 20 minutes, or who will see me pass them on the big hill in the middle of the bike portion (you know, the one with the turnaround at the bottom so you can’t keep any of your momentum for the climb back up).

I also get a mental kick on race day when I encounter adverse conditions. The cumulative experience of having finished runs in extreme heat and completed long rides in the middle of a downpour mean that instead of freaking out, I just remember that I’ve done this before and I can do it again. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it something I can do. If races are 50% mental then that’s a huge advantage right there.

The key to training in adverse conditions is to adjust your expectations and take precautions if necessary.

  • If you’re running in the heat: make sure you hydrate well, wear a hat and sunscreen, and realize that you won’t be able to run as fast as usual; nobody is doing tempo runs at their usual pace when it feels like a sauna. Try to start heat training in the spring so your body can gradually acclimate as temperatures rise.
  • If you’re doing hill repeats: take it easy on the first few because the effort builds up quickly, and judge your effort by heart rate or perceived effort rather than pace or speed.
  • If you’re riding in the rain: leave more space when following (in addition to the safety considerations, you also likely want to avoid getting a faceful of spray off their back tire) and slow down on turns as slick tires combined with oil from the road can get very slippery.

Now, I realize I’m not going to convert everyone to crazy athletes who enjoy hills and run when it’s ridiculously hot outside, but there is a perverted pleasure in doing something difficult and succeeding. Why do you think people do Death Valley ultramarathons or climb mountains? Instead of focusing on how much faster you could be going if only it were cool and flat, take satisfaction from knowing that you are a tough, badass athlete who can handle anything!